Emotional or just irrational?

There has been a great deal of misassumption regarding the role of emotions and its values in our daily lives. We usually say ‘don’t be emotional’ but what we actually mean is ‘don’t be irrational’. Many tend to think that subjecting to emotions when making decisions is irrational. I used to be on this bandwagon. Well, I got a news flash for you. A a research done by Antonio Damasio, the head of neurology at the University of Iowa Medical Centre in Iowa City, had dealt with a patient who had suffered frontal lobe damage as a result of a brain tumor. He could answer intelligence tests but was not able to make choices, prioritize task, or even hold down a job. Even when being shown of pictures of gruseome accidents, he showed no emotion. Dr. Damasio also found out that other patients with similar brain damage possesed the same combination of impaired reason and impaired affect. So, whether we realize it or not, we subject ourselves to our feelings first, and then think through (or not) on how we react to it. This is in line with Spinoza’s view on reason and emotion. He stated that reason is shot through with emotion. To be reasonable, emotions is being brought along with it. 

But what made the word ’emotional’ to often being associated with being ‘irrational’? My view is it is due to Descartes’ famous dualist theory of the mind and body. He considered those two as seperate which is the reason why I think people always see being ’emotional’ as a negative and ‘logical’ being the positive. Although he did think that passions (it was his word for ’emotion’) should not be totally eradicated as he was aware that it is part of human nature and the ‘sweetness of life’, he posited that certain ‘passions’ should be eradicated and should have a remedy for it. A remedy for emotions? This already implies that he considered ’emotions’ to be something of a negative. If we see ‘being emotional’ and ‘being rational’ as two opposing ways of making decisions, then I say we’re being illogical.

 In the history of philosophy, Spinoza was ignored for his theory and Descartes was the one who philosophers over the centuries had looked up to when it comes to theorizing emotions. However, I don’t think only well-known philsophers have follwed his line of thought when it comes to conceptualizing emotion and reason. Laypeople, of all different backgrounds and ages, have also fallen under the belief that emotion and reason needed to be separated from each other when making decisions. The new understanding should be emotion and reason are unified.

Emotions in itself isn’t irrational, it’s our reaction (whether in our abstract mental thought or in our actions) to it is what makes us being either rational or irrational. How we feel is different than how we handle our feelings. So, our reaction to our emotions can be irrational but not the emotion itself. No one in this world is 100% irrational and 100% rational. Based on our personalities and cognitive growth, we can be both but one tends to be dominant (preference) than the other. It all depends on how we value or view certain matters. 

What constitutes one being rational and irrational depends on the time, condition, place, and the matter at hand. For example, disappointment is a form of emotion. It can be rational and irrational based on its assumed effectiveness in a given situation. If your boss is disappointed at you being an hour late to a meeting by giving you a feedback on your time management, then it is rational for him to do so because as the leader of an organization, he/she has responsiblities towards his/her subordinates and one of them is to train them to be professional when it comes to adhering to time. The effectiveness is shown when your boss gives you (professionally) an evaluation on your time management so that you’ll make improvements on it. At least when he’s disappointed, he doesn’t throw tantrums, instead, he sought ways to profesionally tell you that being late to a meeting doesn’t show professionalism. Now, if you’re being disappointed when your boss gives you a negative evaluation for being late by thinking that it’s not fair and throwing tantrums, then you’re the one being irrational. Even when you’re dissappointed at your boss, the rational thing to do is to accept the criticism, admit the mistake, and make improvements. 

All in all, emotions isn’t the culprit for our irrational behaviour but our reaction to it is. Being rational depends on how we react to our emotions depending on the appropriate time, place, method, and the situation at hand. Instead of saying ‘you’re being emotional’, we should be saying ‘you’re being irrational’. Having emotions is part of human nature, we just have to know the appropriate (rational) way to manifest them.
1. ‘I feel, therefore I am’ by Emily Eakin – http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/hsts412/doel/dvs.htm

2. ‘Descartes on the Emotions’ –

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